Dani walked into Ten-Forward at 1815 hours. The room seemed to be packed with dignitaries, ambassadors, and various Starfleet personnel. Dani looked around. There were a few familiar faces. The senior crew members from Deep Space Nine were in attendance, as well as the senior officers of the Enterprise. She spotted Will almost immediately, but she wasn’t sure if she should approach him. He was with some captains and a few admirals. Dani looked at the Deep Space Nine crew. They were talking animatedly amongst themselves. Dani didn’t know who to go to. She was, after all, only a Lt., and junior grade at that. And this dress uniform made her feel…different. She pulled uncomfortably at her collar.
A Bolian waiter approached Dani with a tray of champagne and offered her a glass. She politely declined. How would it look if she were seen knocking back a glass of booze? Even if it was only synthehol, these people probably already had a low opinion of her. There was no use in making it worse.
Will, standing with Captain Picard, Colonel Kira, and some admirals, scanned the room for Dani. His eyes landed on the entrance just as Dani walked through the doors.
“You two have got to meet this girl,” Admiral Paris was saying to Admiral Jellico and Admiral Nechayev. “She’s phenomenal.”
“And there she is,” Will said. He turned to the others standing around him. “If you all will excuse me, I’ll go get her. Admirals, Captain.” He left them and started to walk in Dani’s direction.
When Dani looked away from the waiter, she saw that Will was coming her way.
“Dani,” he said with a smile.
“Will,” she said. Her own smile was absent. “I hope I’m not too late. I just didn’t want to be the first one here.”
“No, no. You’re right on time. Admiral Nechayev and Admiral Jellico are dying to meet you.”
“Me?” Dani asked, genuinely surprised.
“Admiral Paris has been telling them all about you,” Will explained. “So has Colonel Kira.”
Another waiter approached them. Dani turned him down.
“Calm down,” Will said. It was quite apparent to him that she was a little on the nervous side. “You’ve got to loosen up a bit. Relax.” He picked up one of the glasses of synthetic champagne and handed it to Dani as they started to walk. She refused again.
“I can’t,” she said. “I don’t feel like a drink right now.”
Will nodded and took a sip from the glass. “Are you nervous?”
“No,” Dani lied. “I’ve been doing this kind of stuff since I was a kid.” It was true. Her parents had been dragging her to these kind of functions since she was old enough to walk and talk. And she’d hated every moment of every one of them.
“Yes, but you’ve never done this before as an officer,” Will pointed out.
That’s what the problem was now. Now, Dani would be under the direct scrutiny of everyone here. Now, these functions actually counted for something. “Are you trying to make me nervous?” Dani asked.
“No,” Will said innocently. “Just trying to remind you of the situation.”
“Thanks, but no reminder needed.”
By the time Will and Dani reached the admirals’ group, Will had drained his glass and was handing it off to a waiter. He cleared his throat and began.
“Admirals, this is Lt. Junior Grade Danielle Janeway,” Will introduced. “Lt., may I present Admiral Edward Jellico and Admiral Alynna Nechayev.”
Dani nodded formally to the admirals. “It’s an honor, sirs,” she said.
“And you’re already acquainted with Colonel Kira, Captain Picard, and Admiral Paris,” Will continued.
“Yes, I am,” Dani concurred. “And as always, it is a pleasure to be in the company of you all.”
“And, of course, you know Admiral Janeway,” Will said finally.
It took a moment for Janeway to register with Dani. When she finally did, Dani was already shaking her hand.
“Mom,” she said. “I didn’t expect to see you here.”
“What kind of greeting is that from a daughter to a mother?” Kathryn asked. “I would appreciate a hug, Lt. That’s an order.”
Dani embraced her mother. “Now, that’s more to my liking,” Janeway said.
The others standing around the little group chuckled and moved off to give the mother and daughter some space.
“What are you doing here?” Dani asked Kathryn. It wasn’t as if Dani was embarrassed to have her mother there. She was just a little surprised.
“I received an invitational message a few months ago, before you were transferred,” Kathryn explained. “I thought it’d be nice to surprise you and also to congratulate you on your new post and to celebrate.”
“Thanks,” Dani said. “I’m glad you came. Is Dad here, too?”
“Your father couldn’t make it. He had an anthropology symposium to attend at the Academy.”
“Oh,” Dani said. Despite the fact that she and her father had smoothed over the rough edges of their relationship of the past year, Dani still wasn’t completely convinced that their relationship was as it was before Dukat. She didn’t know if it could ever get back to that point.
Kathryn immediately noticed the slightly hurt look that crossed Dani’s face. “He really did want to come,” Kathryn assured her daughter. “He’s the keynote speaker at the symposium, though, so he had to be there.”
“I understand,” Dani said. “I really do.”
“I’m glad,” Kathryn said, smiling. Dani smiled back. “So, how are things with Will?”
“What is it with you and Dad and my relationships?” Dani asked with a frustrated sigh.
“We just want you two be happy, Sweetheart. That’s all we’ve ever wanted for you.”
“Well, I am happy,” Dani said, still with a smile – a real one.
Kathryn smiled and nodded in the direction of the group of admirals. Dani nodded, and she and Kathryn rejoined Will, Picard, and the admirals.
“So sorry for stealing my daughter away for a few minutes,” Kathryn said. “But she’s all yours, now.”
“Wonderful,” said Admiral Nechayev. “I should like to have a few words with the Lt.”
Dani cast a desperate look at Will and her mother. She’d heard much about Nechayev from her parents and from Will. The last thing in the world she wanted was to be alone with her. But she had no choice.
“Of course, Admiral,” Dani said. She left the group once again, this time with Nechayev instead of her mother. Every possibility of what Nechayev might say to her was running through her head.
Once they’d ventured a good distance away from the group, Nechayev spoke up.
“I’ve heard a lot about you, Lt.,” she said. “Almost all of it good.” She stopped walking and looked at Dani. “I think you know what I’m getting at, here, Lt. I have no warmth anywhere in my heart for Cardassians, especially Dukat. I’m going to be frank. I was downright appalled when I learned that a Starfleet officer was involved with Dukat.”
Dani’s heart was in her throat. She could feel the dressing down coming.
Nechayev continued. “I was to the point of personally writing your court- martial report when I realized that I wouldn’t know what to write for the reason. You can’t court-martial someone for his personal life unless it serves as a threat to the ‘Fleet or the Federation, but your relationship with Dukat could very well have fit that bill. He was a former enemy of the Federation.” Nechayev took a step closer to Dani. “I’m going to give you a piece of advice, and I suggest you take it. Be careful who you become involved with in your off-duty life. You’re a good officer with a lot of potential. We need you. Don’t let someone like Dukat drag you down.” She took a step away from Dani, returning to her previous possition. “That said,” she concluded, “good luck on the Enterprise.” Nechayev left Dani alone.
Will had been keeping a curious eye on Nechayev and Dani. The first thing he noticed once Nechayev left was the deathly pale pallor that had come over Dani. She looked petrified.
“Excuse me,” Will said, extricating himself from the group. He walked over to Dani. “Are you okay? What’s the matter? What did she say to you?”
Dani took a deep breath. “According to her, I was on the edge of getting court-martialed,” she said.
“That’s what she told you?” Will asked. He’d never seen Dani so rattled before. Even when she’d taken the Academy entrance exams, she didn’t seem to be all that worried. Now, she looked like she was about to faint.
Dani nervously fidgeted with her jittery hands. “She had already started writing the report when she realized she didn’t have a valid reason to finish it. She said she was writing it personally.”
Will looked across the room. Nechayev had rejoined the other admirals. She returned his gaze with a steady one of her own.
He looked at Dani. “You’ve got to pull yourself together,” he whispered in her ear. “Don’t let her get under your skin. That’s what some of these admirals do. Especially Nechayev. She’s a by-the-book type. I can tell you, it won’t be the last time you feel like this. You just need to develop a tougher skin, that’s all.”
Dani nodded. Will was right. Nechayev had said she’d almost court- martialed her. But she hadn’t. Dani was still an officer. So, what was she so afraid of? She picked up a glass of champagne from a passing waiter’s tray. She was ready for that drink now. She downed the liquid in one swift motion and placed the empty glass on the bar, directly behind her. She took a deep breath and walked over to the admirals’ group for the third time of the night, Will following her.
Will studied Dani. She was the picture of composure. “Now,” she said, “who’s turn is it?”
“I believe mine,” Admiral Paris said, stepping forward. He offered his arm to Dani. She accepted it, and they left the group. The remaining members of the group became engaged in a conversation.
“Will,” Kathryn said. She was little distant from the rest of the group. Will stepped over to join her. “What’s the matter with Dani?” Kathryn asked.
“She was just a little rattled by some news that Nechayev told her,” Will replied.
“What kind of news?”
“Dani, it seems, came very close to being court-martialed,” Will revealed.
“What?” This was the first Kathryn had heard of any plans to court-martial Dani. She worked at headquarters. Any news like that would surely have crossed her desk at some point.
“Because of Dukat,” Will said. “Dani said Nechayev told her she even started writing the report personally when she found out about the relationship.”
Kathryn grimaced internally. She wanted to protect her daughter. What mother wouldn’t? But she couldn’t protect Dani from something she’d already done. “I have a feeling this is something that’s going to haunt Dani’s record for a long time to come, especially if things with the Cardassians flare up again.”
“If that happens, Starfleet’s going to be watching her like a hawk,” Will agreed. “It’s going to be like Captain Picard and the Borg all over again.”
Will and Kathryn looked across the room at Dani and Admiral Paris. “She’s strong,” Kathryn said. “I think she can handle it.”
“That might not be the only thing she has to deal with,” Will said. Kathryn looked at him curiously. “This morning, I had a talk with Deanna. She said members of the crew have been coming to her with concerns about Dani receiving special treatment.”
“I think everyone knew that was going to be an issue when Dani decided that she wanted a career in Starfleet,” Kathryn said. “That’s nothing new. She’s been dealing with that all her life.”
“Deanna said many of the crew members that came to her also had concerns about Dani’s past with Dukat.”
Kathryn looked at her daughter again. “As a mother, I wish there was something I could do to make it all better for her,” she said. “But as a Starfleet officer, I understand why people feel the way they do about her. She’s had a controversial past. The hard truth is that while we all have to prove ourselves, she’s going to have a much more difficult go at doing that than either of us did.”
“I think she can do it,” Will said.
“Of course she can. This is one of the few times I’m glad she inherited the stubborn gene that runs on my side of the family.” She smiled, and Will returned her smile.
When Dani return to her quarters that night, it was late, as Will had predicted, and all she really wanted to do was fall into bed and sleep. As she pulled off her boots, she walked over to the computer console on her desk. She saw that her duty shift for the week had been posted, and she wanted to make sure for herself that her shift was as early as Will claimed it was. She opened up the file and learned that she was to be on the bridge at Ops at 0800 hours. Dani looked at the chronometer. It was 0145 hours now.
“Great,” she mumbled, shedding her dress uniform and sliding into her bed. She immediately drifted off to sleep.